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A Closer Look at Major English Premier League Storylines

Eight matches into the 2011-12 Barclay's English Premier League season and it's hard to not to take a Swansonian approach to what transpired.

A paltry 14 goals.

Three scoreless draws -- including a Fulham/Aston Villa snoozer on ESPN2 that prompted Ian Darke to tweet an apology for its direness.

Countless questionable decisions by Premier League referees.

Joey Barton being Joey Barton.

But hey, at least Seb Larsson scored a pretty sweet goal.

Is that an overtly cynical take on 2.5 percent of the season? You bet it is. Still, for all the hype, self-high-fives and platitudes the Premier League likes to heap on itself, you tend to expect a little more than what we got over the last two days.

It is only one round of matches, so let's look at a few pertinent storylines that might have developed:

1. Defensive crisis at Manchester United?

For about 40 minutes United looked like a barn cat toying with a wounded animal that was Roy Hodgson's West Brom. Tom Cleverly and Anderson were pinging passes around, while Ashley Young was trying Steven Reid like he was the Irish Jonathan Bornstein. When Wayne Rooney scored you figured the rout would be on.

Wrong. Shane Long beat David De Gea with a long, low, slow shot from the edge of the area -- immediately making the 20-year-old Spanish keeper the topic of conversation. Anyone with a keyboard in the world simply has to chime in on whether it's only a matter of De Gea "acclimatizing," "settling" or if he's the second-coming of Massimo Taibi.

There's no grey area. You have to make a snap judgement -- now. NOW!

The problem for De Gea is that his safety net is gone, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand each limping off with leg injuries before 70 minutes had passed. With the two defensive stalwarts shielding the young Spaniard the pressure wasn't nearly as high. Now with Phil Jones -- a teenager himself and new to the team -- and Jonny Evans -- who's a year away from being purchased by Steve Bruce -- De Gea's margin for error slipped considerably.

United's next game is home at Old Trafford vs. Tottenham. Expect a volley of long shots from Spurs. Another slip up in that match and it might be enough that maybe De Gea wishes he stayed in Madrid to where he could've kept playing in that The National cover band, sipping the Spanish equivalent of PBR wearing denim culottes 80 percent of the year. Now at England's biggest club he already has to face the music. (See what I did there?)

Of course, any sign of a quick crisis for United was averted when Young pinballed a ball off Reid from a sheer angle for the winning goal. Once again United do enough in the final 15 minutes of a match to get through. Last year the Red Devils scored 16 times in the final 10 minutes.

Remember, too, United only won five away games last year.

Meaning ...

2. Should Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool be worried about their draws on the opening weekend?

Yeah why not, but it's not the end of the world just yet. The panic scale from most to least should read: Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea.

Forget the ongoing madness of Joey Barton for a second. That Arsenal/Newcastle United game at St. James Park was about as boring a game as you can find. The Gunners seemed to want to work the flanks, but every centering pass was knocked away. Tim Krul made what, one tough save? Robin van Persie almost curled one in from a free kick? That was about it.

It's a little too early to drop the usual, Same Old Gunners refrain since Jack Wilshere didn't play nor do we know who Arsene Wenger is going to replace Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas with, yet. Not that the Frenchman has time to settle down and think either, with Tuesday's Champions League qualifier vs. Udinese looming.

One thought, it's not the champagne style football Wenger wants to play, but Arsenal did score with Maroune Chamakh playing the majority of minutes when van Persie was hurt last campaign. In a game like that against Newcastle why not throw the big Moroccan on and try to make something happen. Points are points.

And what a debut for Gervinho? Early curtains.

Last Arsenal thought for the moment. Are you sitting down? Got some breaking news, so brace yourself: Cesc Fabregas was sold to Barclona. Where did that come from? Stunning and shocking. (He better bring back this hair.)

For what it's worth, in Fabregas' time at Arsenal -- much of it as captain -- the club one one trophy, the 2004-05 FA Cup.

He can be replaced. More on this later in the week, time permitting.

As for Chelsea? Didn't bother to wake up for the match vs. Stoke. Reading game reports and watching the highlights, looks like the Blues had some chances or calls for a penalty. Fernando Torres, off a concussion no less, didn't look comatose.

At the end of the season, a draw at Stoke doesn't look like the worst result in the world. Until the knockout stages of the Champions League it's going to be hard to pin down whether or not Chelsea are that much better off under Andre Villa-Boas since this is still pretty much Carlo Ancelotti's team, which is still pretty much Jose Mourinho's team.

Finally, Liverpool? What to make here?

The Reds looked like worldbeaters in the first half-hour vs. Sunderland, even with Luis Suarez missing a penalty. Not sure how Keiran Richardson wasn't sent off when Suarez was clean in on Simon Mignolet. That's the Premier League, though. Awful referee decisions come with the territory.

This might be a typical Liverpool game going forward. For all the smart signings Kenny Dalglish has brought in, the defense remains quite rickety. Problem is, Jamie Carragher is 33 years old and the blood-and-guts of the club. You can't just kick him to the curb unceremoniously, can you? It's not that Carragher is washed up completely either.

Liverpool in 2011-12 should be a lot like Saturday's game for the interim, until all the offensive pieces Dalglish has assembled figure out exactly where they best gel together.

Expect a lot of 3-2 scorelines at Anfield this year.

3. So, Bolton, Wolves? Huh?

Great Job! Bolton. First place for yourselves, and four goals to boot. Gary Cahill scoring -- not on a header but a cracking shot from outside the box -- probably added a few million to his ensuing transfer fee.

All-and-all it's coming up Milhouse pretty early for Owen Coyle's team, which hammered hapless QPR 4-0 at Loftus Road. QPR added insult to injury by: a) one of the goals coming on a Daniel Gabbidon own-goal; b) Kieron Dyer limping off in less than five minutes and c) having another player (Clint Hill) sent off late for a red card retaliation foul. QPR only allowed 32 goals in the Championship last year. This doesn't bode well.

Welcome back to the league.

Quietly a quality result for Wolves, coming down from an early deficit to win on the road. Mick McCarthy's side looks to be a shade better than relegation fodder this year.

4. Showlifters of the World Unite.

Feels like I'm required to write something about Joey Barton being an asshole in this spot. So let's leave it at that. Credit him, in a weird way, for baiting Gervinho to lash out and possibly getting Alex Song a retroactive penalty/fine for stomping on him earlier in the game. The most remarkable aspect of what Barton did on Saturday -- more than falling down at the gently brush of the cheek from Gervinho -- was getting the ref to stop the game while the ball was still in play.

Nice Moz haircut, though.

Around the League:

All three victories over the weekend were by away teams. ... Has any player's stock fallen more in the last year than Gabriel Agbonlahor? ... Thought Johan Cabaye would be a player to root for at Newcastle ... until I saw he has a tribal tattoo on his thigh. ... Between Bakary Sagna, Alex Song and Johan Djourou is there enough hair-dye to go around at the Emirates? ... Kind of upset I didn't grab a screencap of Dirk Kuyt with a head wrap. Would've made a nice new Twitter icon.

Broadcast Zone:

Let's say this to FSC, err, Fox Soccer's credit at least they didn't bombard us with ProActiv and Sylvania HD ads at every commercial break. Otherwise? The subtle rebranding of the network otherwise didn't do very much.

"Match Day" and "Goals on Sunday"? How many focus groups were used to come up with those utterly generic names? "Match Day" remains thoroughly in the realm of must-not-see tv, as it brings next to nothing to the table aside from cliches. The fact the postgame show around noon still fails to show more than scant highlights from the early matches never makes sense, either.

What's amazing is Fox Soccer is essentially a network for the Premier League and Champions League. That's the entire deal. Yet ESPN, where the Prem is a Saturday morning afterthought, treats the league with so much more quality in his presentation -- simply from the fact Ian Darke and Steve McManaman are in the building they're broadcasting from. (Not sure how ESPN did a pregame feature on traveling to Craven Cottage and didn't show the Michael Jackson statue.)

Overall neither pregame show, which went on the air a half house before kickoff, are must-see television, but the stagnation set in at Fox leaves a lot to be desired, even with some new graphics.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Points haven't been added to the league page, as of this morning. Know this, Cahill was the only player from the weekend to hit double-digits without the captain's bonus.

One Other Thing:

If you read my Twitter feed then you know I like to have a laugh when Real Madrid and Barcelona play each other. Sunday's Spanish Super Cup preseason tune-up was certainly much more entertaining than anything the Prem offered over the weekend. Not sure what any of the teams in England can do narrow the gap or hang with them in the Champions League.


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